We humans have been harnessing the power of plants for thousands of years. From meals to medicine and everything in between, many different plants have been powering our pursuits and helping us heal. And although one commonly used substance, yeast, is a fungus and not technically a plant, we still use this mini powerhouse to make food, medicines, and now even CBD.
Wait, did you just read that right? CBD derived from yeast? It turns out, that by modifying the chemical structure of common yeasts and inserting certain genes into them, the same pathways that create cannabinoids within the cannabis plant can be mimicked and the end result is CBD and THC being excreted.
Looking at the science from the researchers who made initial headway in creating CBD from yeast reveals that they were able to achieve biosynthesis of the major cannabinoids CBDA and THCA in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  This was achieved by engineering, “the native mevalonate pathway to provide a high flux of geranyl pyrophosphate and introducing a heterologous, multi-organism-derived hexanoyl-CoA biosynthetic pathway.” The researchers also introduced genes derived from the cannabis plant that ended up producing cannabinoid analogues. 
These discoveries are important for several reasons and have obvious implications on the cannabis industry. Cannabinoids produced form yeast, though the process is still being developed, provide a way to create CBD without actually growing the cannabis plant. This could make it easier to develop CBD products and treatments without having to deal with the many rules and regulations that surround the cannabis and hemp industries, even with more widespread acceptance and legality as of late.
Producing CBD from yeast also has the potential to be far cheaper than from the plant as producing yeast is not as labor intensive nor requires as precise and focused of a growing environment as an outdoor or indoor cannabis grow operation. Yeast derived CBD cuts production costs immensely and is also easier to extract. What’s more, through the application of specific cannabinoid inducing genes, yeast-derived CBD can be created in a more isolated manner without risk of any THC contamination.
While still a fairly new development that doesn’t look to threaten the potential and incentive to still grow hemp and cannabis for CBD purposes, this research into yeast shows that the future of the CBD industry may explore its options away from the plant that has created the industry in the first place.
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- Luo, Xiaozhou, et al. Complete biosynthesis of cannabinoids and their unnatural analogues in yeast. 123-126 (2019) DOI:10.1038/s41586-019-0978-9